Diane Duane, A Wizard Alone (Harcourt, 2002)

Years ago, long before Harry Potter was even a blip on the radar screen, I discovered the fascinating world of Diane Duane's Young Wizards series, which began with So You Want To Be A Wizard, and continued with Deep Wizardry, High Wizardry, and later, A Wizard Abroad. (For a more in-depth examination of the previous books in this series, I refer you to Peregrine's Prerogative -- scroll down to #25 -- and The Wizard's Dilemma.) The short version: Kit Rodriguez and Nita Callahan, as well as Nita's younger sister Dairine, are all wizards, charged with protecting the world from the Lone Power, AKA Death. They use a scientifically-designed form of magic to keep the universe running smoothly and defeat the Lone Power whenever it rears its ugly head. They're merely small cogs in a much larger system involving wizards all over creation, but every single person is vital in his or her own way. To date, they've gone through a number of challenges, the most hard-hitting of which was when Nita failed to prevent her mother's death. Now, though, Kit's been thrust into an all-new predicament.

While Nita and Dairine are essentially on suspended duty, recovering from the emotional trauma of their mother's death, Kit is pressed into service to examine a highly unusual situation; while most wizards undergo their initial Ordeal in a matter of days, Darryl McAllister has been on Ordeal for three months and counting. What's going on? How can anyone remain in Ordeal that long? Normally, you resolve it ... or you die. The Lone Power doesn't mess around. So Kit, and his faithful dog Ponch (a dog with the uncanny ability to find anything and create mini-universes before breakfast) set off for some answers. What they learn turns everything on its ear: Darryl is autistic. And that is just the beginning, as Kit and Ponch are drawn across different realities, trying to unlock the secrets of Darryl's mind, and free him from the traps of the Lone Power. Can they do it, or will a young wizard be sacrificed for the good of all before he's ever actually done any good? Nita could help ... if she wasn't an emotional wreck. Kit's pretty much on his own, which isn't good, since he's used to working with a partner.

A Wizard Alone is the second book in the series to come out within the past few years, after an eight year break. We can undoubtedly attribute at least some of this newfound popularity to the Harry Potter books, filling the need for young wizards and magical adventure. Myself, I'm just glad to see Kit and Nita back.

Mostly.

As I've stated in previous reviews, I love this series but it does have its flaws. Maybe it's just that I'm aging a lot faster than the characters, but it's hard to see much progress in Kit and Nita since the beginning. A bit more experienced, a bit more wary, and a bit more emotionally drained, but still, they haven't made a whole lot of progress. I think it's just me wondering when they're going to visibly grow up. It's not a good thing when the protagonist's dog and his quarreling appliances are more interesting than he is. (Yes, Kit's DVD player and remote control hate each other. And the TV has taken to getting channels from other galaxies. Such is life with a wizard.)

Don't get me wrong. I loved this book. I always look forward to this series. And having the Callahans and the Rodriguezes both fully aware of the magic present in their lives, and watching Kit's family cope and deal, is a breath of fresh air from too many "secret identity" stories I've run into over the years. Pleasantly baffled, but made believers through undeniable proof, Kit's parents cheerfully make sure Kit eats enough before he goes strolling through someone's head or pops off to the Moon for a picnic. And watching Kit struggle with one problem while Nita goes through her own recovery is an emotionally satisfying story. Ultimately, I will recommend this book, as I have the rest of the series. It's thought-provoking, intriguing, and its exploration of an autistic mind makes for some interesting storytelling. And for those who continue to wonder where the next Harry Potter book is, this may at least take the edge off for a while.

[Michael M. Jones]

Those interested in more information may wish to check out Young Wizards.net.

Diane Duane maintains a personal site here (featuring the WORST story EVER written, EVER, the Eye of Argon, by the nigh-legendary Jim Theis!)